Superman: The Unkindest Cut, Chapter 9: Caught in a Loop

by Starsky Hutch 76

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“Fascinating,” Jor-El said, wide-eyed, as he peered at the interior of the skull ship of Brainiac. His previous perspective of the ship had been limited to the cargo hold. Now that he was seeing the inner workings, he looked like a child at a toy store who had been presented with the latest arrivals for the Christmas season.

“When Kal-El had referred to Brainiac as a robotic life-form, I thought he meant it in a figurative sense. The mechanics of this ship really do seem to mimic organic function. It’s as if we’re inside a gigantic life-form rather than a machine.”

“Oh, no,” Shlagen moaned. “That’s going to make our job a lot harder than we thought. Maybe even impossible.”

“Your brand of fatalism is not what we need right now,” Artin said.

“Have no fear, my friend,” Jor-El said, placing a friendly hand on Shlagen’s shoulder. “A bigger challenge will just make it all the more rewarding when we triumph. It’s simply a matter of tracking the nervous system to its central point.”

“That makes sense,” Artin said. “Brainiac would be the ‘brain’ of this ‘organism’ when he is piloting it, so that’s where the control room would be.”

Jor-El gave the metallic flesh of the walls a scan with his x-ray vision. “The artificial nerve impulses seem to be firing in this direction,” he said, pointing ahead. “So let’s go this way.”

“I was just about to suggest the same thing.” Artin said as he followed behind, with Shlagen practically stepping on his heels as he stared about nervously.


Across the globe, the fear melted away from the inhabitants of Bodace. Hun’ya’s speech had fortified them even more than the newly yellow sun. It gave them a purpose. The private armies of the empire’s nobility found themselves confronted with a populace that could not be suppressed. Guns could not blast them. Knives could not puncture them. This battle would be fought hand to hand. And there were far more of the commoners than there were of the rebellious nobility.

Superman and his accomplices found that less and less of the Scrubbs needed rescuing from themselves. Any Scrubb who had been near a holo-emitter or knew someone who was had a new focus for their attentions. Even so, it still felt as if they were trying to stop a hurricane.

Lara Jor-El cushioned a Scrubb with a gust of super-breath as he was thrown into a brick wall in an attempt to minimize the damage he did to the building. He seemed to barely notice her effort, and he immediately ran back into the fray.

“Wait!” she called out to him as he ran off without looking back.

“Hold, mother,” Superman said, laying a hand on her shoulder.

“What do you mean hold?!” she exclaimed. “These people are killing each other. We have to do something!”

“They’re in the middle of a civil war,” he said. “We have to respect that and let them fight this… to decide their destiny for themselves. That’s a hard lesson I had to learn on Earth. It’s the difference between making you their protector or their master. Frankly, in this case, I don’t think we could stop them, anyway. All we can do in this case is to help make sure there is still a civilization to rebuild once all this is over.”

“It’s so hard,” she said in a shaky voice, staring out at the chaos before them.

“I know it is,” Superman said, putting his arm around her shoulders for support. “But Rao gives us the burden he knows we can bear.”

“This is the life we made for you?” she moaned.

“There hasn’t been a day I haven’t been thankful for it,” he replied, watching as Superwoman flew overhead, blowing out a row of burning buildings. “Not one day.”

A car flew overhead, and seeing no driver, he quickly realized it wasn’t exactly moving under its own power. “Back to work,” he sighed, flying to intercept it.


“You ready for this?” Jor-El asked Artin, connecting one cable after another to the input jacks he had fashioned upon Artin’s robotic skull. The outer dome had been removed, revealing the circuitry beneath.

“As ready as I could ever expect to be,” Artin said from his seated position in the command chair of Brainiac’s skull ship.

“Second thoughts?” Jor-El asked. “I had heard that you were dying to get in there.”

“I am a machine,” Artin said dryly. “I am incapable of being nervous.”

Jor-El laughed. “You and I both know you are no mere machine.”

“A-and I sure can’t blame you if y-you are nervous,” Shlagen said as he handed Jor-El another input jack attached to a cable.

“I envy you,” Jor-El said. “A large part of me would love to trade places with you.”

“There is a great chance the human mind would not survive the journey,” Artin said.

“It’s a journey I would gladly make, nonetheless,” Jor-El said. His son had told him how Brainiac was the one responsible for Kandor’s disappearance. He had taken the one city that had stood behind him when he warned the Science Council of Krypton’s impending doom. In doing so, Brainiac had also stolen the space fleet they had built to Jor-El’s specifications that could have save millions. That made Brainiac personally responsible for an incalculable number of deaths. Jor-El would love to see to it personally that Brainiac pay for his crimes.

Jor-El took the last input jack from Shlagen and placed it on Artin’s skull circuitry. “This should do it,” he told the android. “Brace yourself.” He hit a switch and faded from view of the android’s optical sensors.


If you lived anywhere near the Vegan system, any discussion about who was the baddest, most dangerous bastich-fragger in the entire sector would inevitably come to the same conclusion: Lobo was the best there was. This was for one of two reasons. First, no one could deny his skill, and second, those having such a discussion would practically wet themselves at the thought of what Lobo would do to them should he hear that they said anything bad about him, not that they could. When it came to fragging a bastich, Lobo was the best there was.

Right now, though, he didn’t feel like the best fragger. After several hours amongst the Scrubbs in the middle of their revolution, he felt like he was earning a new title: fragger’s assistant.

Lobo had to be realistic. Given his current odds, he was winning just by surviving. Letting Hun’ya carry the heavy load of the fighting didn’t sit well, though, nor did letting Hun’ya deliver all the final blows so his people could cheer his name. He could hear them even now, he thought to himself as he sent another one of the nobles’ private soldiers flying toward Hun’ya to be finished off.

Wait a fraggin’ minute, Lobo thought, pausing. That’s my name. They’re cheerin’ me, too! A smile crossed Lobo’s face, and he began to fight with renewed vigor. Maybe this’s why those hero types do it, he mused.


Artin travelled the pathways of the Scrubb internet at speeds imperceptible to human senses. He had been transferred to binary code for the trip, his mind and his very soul reduced to a set of ones and zeros moving along a cable. To the view-screen in the control room of Brainiac’s skull ship, though, it looked as if he were surfing upon a beam of light, zipping along a tunnel built of colorful lasers, soaring past as information transferred from one place to another. This was the computer’s attempt to display Artin’s trip in terms the human viewers in the control room could comprehend.

Artin had scanned the ship’s computer banks thoroughly before entering the web, so he had some idea of what he was seeking. The trouble was, Brainiac had apparently become well-travelled in his brief time on Bodace. It wasn’t so much a question of where he had been, but where he hadn’t been.

Two flaming balls of energy suddenly soared past Artin. “Viruses!” he exclaimed. Two more shot toward him, and he easily dodged them, having spent more of his existence within the web than without.

Artin traced the viruses to their source. Sure enough, their creator was the green-hued android he had sought. “Brainiac!”

“I thought there was someone in here with me,” Brainiac said haughtily. “Something tells me you aren’t a native.”

“And you are?” Artin asked.

“I am more. So much more,” Brainiac said. “For all practical purposes, I am now Bodace itself. There is no corner of their information network that my mind does not reach.”

“No,” Artin said. “You are a virus. And I am the cure.”

“You?” Brainiac said with a mocking laugh. “Do you realize who you’re dealing with?”

“I’m not afraid,” Artin said.

“Then there must be an error in your logic subroutine. I am Brainiac, you fool. If you knew what was good for you, you would turn back the way you came. You face a twelfth-level intelligence.”

Twelfth level?” Artin said wryly. “Then I will be sure to speak slowly.”

“You dare?!” Brainiac exclaimed. He threw his hands upward, and two bolts of light fired toward Artin.

Artin gasped in astonishment as the bolts of light raced toward him. This was not an ability Brainiac had in the real world. He was even more astonished when the beams passed through him.

“That’s it?” Artin said.

“Oh, that’s enough, I assure you,” Brainiac said smugly.


Shlagen let out a horrified cry as Artin’s robotic body burst into flame.

Jor-El quickly leaped forward and gave a burst of super-breath, putting out the fire. “Damn,” Jor-El said grimly.

“Is he…?” Shlagen started.

“Every circuit is fried,” Jor-El said, scanning the burned-out metal husk with his x-ray vision. “He’s stuck in there.”


Artin stared at Brainiac with unwavering determination. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he was worried.

Brainiac stared at Artin smugly, waiting for him to comment on his current predicament. When no comment was forthcoming, he raised an eyebrow and said, “Frightened now?”

“Should I be? I started out as a disembodied program. The android form was simply something I wore. Do you get frightened when a favorite shirt is ruined? Annoyed, perhaps, but frightened? No.”

“Oh, you do try one’s patience,” Brainiac said, raising his hands to issue another blast.

Artin quickly dodged the blast and raised his hands to deliver a blast of his own, surprising Brainiac.

“I see you are a quick study,” Brainiac growled.

“You still don’t get it,” Artin said. “You are in my territory now. Not the other way around.” With that, he sent two more bolts flying in Brainiac’s direction.

Brainiac gave an angry cry as he sent two bolts to intercept them. He sent another bolt flying toward Artin, who dodged and returned fire.

The two combatants continued to exchange fire, and the netspace itself shook with the fury of their battle. The results could be felt in the outside world. A police cruiser crashed as its navigation system went haywire, its super-powered pilots exiting unharmed. A drink machine on a street corner fired soda cans at pedestrians. An animatronic entertainer in a children’s restaurant let loose with a stream of profanities.

Artin fired another burst at Brainiac, who then deflected it back toward him. Artin then deflected the same shot back toward Brainiac, increasing its intensity. Brainiac threw up a shield and was alarmed as the blast suddenly changed paths, running the length of his shield, spinning faster and faster around him until all he could see was the zip trail of the energy burst.

“He’s trying to contain me!” Brainiac growled. “I will not be contained!” He threw up his hands, and the shield exploded outward, colliding with Artin, who seemed to explode outward into a thousand points of light. When Brainiac’s vision cleared, he was alone.

Brainiac threw up his arms in triumph. “You fool! No one defeats Brainiac!”

Brainiac threw up his arms in triumph. “You fool! No one defeats Brainiac!”

Brainiac threw up his arms in triumph. “You fool! No one defeats Brainiac!”

Brainiac threw up his arms in triumph. “You fool! No one defeats Brainiac!”

Brainiac threw up his arms in triumph. “You fool! No one defeats Brainiac!”


Superman smashed through the wall of the media center building and entered the room where Brainiac sat unmoving. He was followed by Superwoman, Lara Jor-El, and Starfire, who flew in after him. Primus, Tigorr, Doc, and Broot then stepped through the hole they had made. Their gaze moved from the android to the composite image filling the monitors of Brainiac laughing triumphantly before the image would then skip back to the burst of light fading to normal, Brainiac laughing, and then repeat, over and over again, ad infinitum.


Across the globe, Scrubbs began to lower to the ground as the appearance of the sun slowly changed from yellow to a deeper yellow and orange before finally returning to the natural red. By this point, it was too late for the old aristocracy to fight off the tides of change. The revolution had been won.


“He’s caught in a loop,” Jor-El said, watching Brainiac as he repeatedly crowed in triumph.

“If A-Artin won the fight, then where is he?” Shlagen stammered.

Jor-El and Shlagen turned at the sudden swoosh sound of the metal door to the control room sliding open. Shlagen gave a startled cry as a metallic skeletal figure entered. “Brainiac!”

It did appear to be Brainiac, but not the version they were familiar with. This was the cold, robotic-looking Brainiac with a skull-shaped head, not the green-skinned Brainiac from the present and the distant past. (*) The voice that broke the tension, however, did not belong to either version of their foe.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Rebirth,” Action Comics #544 (June, 1983).]

“This form is incredible,” the skeletal android said, holding its hand in front of his skull-like face.

“Artin?!” Jor-El exclaimed. “How?”

“I needed somewhere to go, and this spare body was available,” explained Artin. “Apparently, he had several in storage. It’s amazing… I could feel the breeze wafting through the hallway on the walk here. I can smell the different scents in the air generated by the environmental unit. There is the expected antiseptic scent, but also a strange, unexpected sulfuric quality has presented itself.”

“It’s not my fault!” Shlagen suddenly blurted. “You startled me! My race sometimes does that when frightened.”

“Ah,” Artin said. “Seeing as you are frequently frightened, I shall make an effort to stay upwind of you from now on.”

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